Saturday, May 11, 2013

Top Right to Information NGO regrets slow implementation of RTI norms, recommends quick proactive disclosures

RTI On Wheels, run by MAGP
By Our Representative
The Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), Gujarat’s foremost Right to Information (RTI) NGO, has revealed that there is a whopping 41.2 per cent violation of RTI norms by the first appellate authorities (FAAs), who happen to be Gujarat government officials, which leads to a large number of cases piling up with the Gujarat Information Commission. Last year, it has said in a statement, there were in all 30,491 RTI appeals or complaints, out of which 19,130 could be disposed of.
The MAGP -- which has been running India’s first RTI hotline (09924085000), completing seven years, receiving a total of 1.74 lakh calls from 23 states at the rate of 67 calls per day -- said in its statement, there were 28 per cent of cases where the public information officer (PIO) did not comply with the order from the FAAs, in 25.6 per cent of cases, the PIO did not comply by the order from the information commission, in 28.2 per cent of cases, only partial information was provided after the second appeal, and only in 17.4 per cent of cases full information is received after the second appeal.
Issued in the wake of the eighth anniversary of the RTI, the statement regrets, a major reason why so many cases remain pending is refusal to comply by Section 4(1)b of the RTI Act, information that needs to be pro-actively disclosed. It says, “proactive disclosure is precondition for good governance”, adding, it is particularly required to given for the budget for particular programmes, expenses incurred for those programmes, the schemes implemented by public authorities (housing schemes, pension schemes, employment guarantee scheme, etc,), beneficiaries of these schemes, and norms and criteria by which beneficiaries are selected, decisions taken.
The proactive disclosure is also needed to be given, it says, those who get “leases for mining of sand, limestone, lignite and other minerals, under which condition, what is the time period, and what is amount of royalty to be paid to the government; who gets licenses, authorizations (gun, ration shop, kerosene dealership, notary-ship etc), and subsidies (subsidy in tax, allotment of land, supply of water at subsidized rate, loans at subsidized rate of interest, tax holiday packages etc).
The statement underlines, “About 82 per cent of the information asked in Gujarat is about these issues.” Yet, “about 90 per cent of the panchyats in Gujarat did not disclose information about their functioning, budgets, schemes, norms, beneficiaries etc. Above 95 per cent of the ration shop are still to disclose the basic info of how much ration per month, at what rate, and who gets what.” It underlines, “If the government would have ensured disclosures of above mentioned information on the notice boards, walls, through website then RTI activist Amit Jethva would not have been killed or Jabardann Gadhvi would not have committed suicide, and people would not have been harassed.”
The statement further says, “Public authorities did not want to disclose info pro-actively because that will disclose the misappropriations, violations of norms, and corruption in the system.” It laments, there has still not been any audit for 4(1) b of the Act”, demanding, “The State Information Commission should held government responsible for non-implementation of section 4(1) b.”
Based on all this, the MAGP has demanded that:
* All the panchayat should disclose information about budget received, spent, list of benificiaries of welfare schemes, norms, and rules followed by Panchayat in decision making, job card list under MGNREGA, payment details, details of works done, names, and functions of various village level committees like Gram Sanjivani Samiti Pani Samiti, school management committees, PDS monitoring commission, social justice committee etc. Every village should have BPL list painted on the walls.
* All the private and public land records should be disclosed in the village. Viz – survey no, ownership, possession, encroachment, change in usage, details of sale of land, total grazing land, shortfall, etc., on line with what the Andhra Pradesh government has done
* All the PDS shops should have information on how much ration, at which rate for whom.
* All industries receiving subsidy in tax, land, water usage, electricity or any other subsidy should be disclosed on the website. Also details of monitoring mechanism and reports of monitoring visits or compliance reports field by industries should be made public.
* Details like time period, royalty and conditions of all the leases (sand, lignite, limestone, sandstone and other minerals) should be proactively disclose on the website. Also details of violations of lease conditions and actions taken by the government
* All the district collector, District Development officer, District Supply officer, District Health Officer, and director DRDA should ensure that information is painted on the walls of PA’s under their jurisdiction at block and village level. RTI should be one of the Agenda for monthly reporting or review meetings held at district level.
* Government should conduct audit of section 4(1) b and should publish the same.
* Government should take action as per service rules against the PIO and AA who has not implemented RTI act. The same should be recorded in the service book of the official, employee.
The MAGP statement expresses disappointment that the High Court rules for RTI are ultra-virus to the Act. It says, “As per section 6(3) of the RTI Act, PIO can transfer RTI application to other public authorities if information sought belongs to that particular authority. However Gujarat HC RTI rules have banned such transfer and PIO do neither transfers such application nor did citizens gets his RTI application or fee back. The RTI Act has provision of providing information free of any cost to person below poverty line. This provision is not made in Gujarat HC RTI rules. As per section 20(1), PIO can be penalized upto 25,000 for violation of RTI. The Gujarat HC rules states a penalty of Rs.500 for violation.” It adds, “MAGP has made repeated representation to Chief Justice of HC to review its rules and remove these anomalies. We are still waiting for the reply and action on our representation.”
It also regrets, “RTI rules by the Gujarat State Assembly can frame its own RTI rules. The Gujarat government has framed new rules in March 2010. However, the State assembly is still working with old rules of 2005. We have requested Gujarat State Assembly to review their rules and either adopt Gujarat Government RTI rules or frame new one.”

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